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OSI keeps Baghdad Airmen, Soldiers safe

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A special agent assigned to the Office of Special Investigations Detachment 2408 conducts a counter-surveillance mission near an entry control point here.  OSI agents protect Airmen and Soldiers deployed to Baghdad International Airport from many force-protection threats.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A special agent assigned to the Office of Special Investigations Detachment 2408 conducts a counter-surveillance mission near an entry control point here. OSI agents protect Airmen and Soldiers deployed to Baghdad International Airport from many force-protection threats. (U.S. Air Force photo)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFPN) -- Force Protection. To many Airmen, it means fishing for identification, showing it to the gate guard, and then going to work for a 12-hour shift. To the special agents of Air Force Office of Special Investigations Detachment 2408, force protection encompasses a range of discreet, 24-hour operations to keep the enemy from endangering those Airmen or interrupting their mission.

Camp Sather here is just one piece of the operational pie for these agents, said Special Agent Claude Markham, detachment 2408 commander. Since army units surround the camp, the detachment establishes a human intelligence perimeter around Baghdad International Airport.

“So our footprint for intelligence collections is huge,” said Agent Markham. “Our mission is to protect the 447th Air Expeditionary Group, but in order to do that, we have to protect the entire Baghdad International Airport compound.”

The agents use the intelligence they gather to generate strike packages against insurgents or insurgent groups that threaten U.S. forces in the area. The results of those strike packages are swift and often lethal, employing special tactics units to neutralize or capture threats, Agent Markham said.

“From an agent’s point of view, the results are instantaneous,” said Special Agent Dan Livingston, detachment superintendent. “We’ll hand off the information in the early morning and find out the target has been hit before noon. We’re at the tip of the spear. Our operations here are the pinnacle of everything we train for stateside.”

A typical intelligence collection mission encompasses a variety of techniques. Once agents determine if the source is accurate or not, they solidify information regarding a threat’s location, strength, weakness and operation type to create a comprehensive strike package.

“We’re not shooters,” Agent Livingston said, “we’re collectors. But by collecting information about the enemy, we’re still in harm’s way. Bad guys don’t live in the nicest neighborhoods.”

Although the agents rarely take part in the actual strike, Agent Markham said, they often have to travel “outside the wire” of the airport compound to collect information.

“OSI maintains an information network throughout Baghdad,” Agent Markham said. “We have to go where the information is.”

In October, three agents were caught in the blast radius of a suicide bomber during an operation in a Baghdad café. All three of them sustained injuries, but they survived the attack. Agent Markham said the incident is an everyday reminder to him of the importance of OSI’s mission in Baghdad.

Agents face threats both direct and indirect to keep the rest of the Airmen and Soldiers here safe, most times without those protected even realizing it. Since the methods and equipment of the agents must remain a secret to stay effective and successful, most servicemembers have no idea what OSI does to keep them safe.

“The satisfaction of successfully keeping Airmen and Soldiers safe comes from the results we see out in the field,” Agent Markham said. “When we see insurgents getting mug shots taken with that identification placard in front of them, it’s very gratifying.”

Besides intelligence gathering, the detachment also works to counter shoulder-fired missile threats to aircraft, and on protective-service details for distinguished visitors. The agents also act as a clearing house for information. They will either compliment information coming in with the intelligence they have collected, or put over-exaggerated information into a more realistic perspective.

“The contributions to force protection by our OSI detachment cannot be over stated,” said Col. Delbert Lewis, 447th AEG Commander. “During the information collection process our brave agents have put themselves in hazardous situations many times. Sometimes their efforts have been met with peril resulting in personal injury, or worse. Because of their heroic deeds, our group is safer and more capable of doing its mission. America and the United States Air Force are lucky to have such fine people.”

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